Three weeks after being flown out of Boulder Canyon with serious head trauma, Reid Pletcher is ready to head home to Sun Valley after his expected discharge from Craig Hospital in Denver this Friday.
The 2011 NCAA Champion from CU fell 20 feet on May 26 when, during a fall, two pieces of climbing protection came out of the rock face. His girlfriend Mali Noyes, who was belaying Pletcher on what was going to be their last climb of the day, described what happened.
“He was leading the climb on a 5.11b hand crack, requiring pro placement for protection. When he was about 20-30 feet up the wall he unexpectedly fell. He had four trad pieces in at this point, but the top two pulled out,” she said. “It’s rare for two pieces of equipment to pop, but there was a very old tree root in the crack that was hard to see, so what looked like really good placement actually wasn’t.”
Pletcher, who learned to climb at a young age from his father, wasn’t wearing a helmet when he fell. “For a climber of Reid’s ability, it’s common not to wear one unless you’re doing a multi-route. This was a single pitch without any loose rock,” said Noyes.
“He’ll always be wearing one now.”
After the fall, Noyes called for help and assessed Pletcher’s condition. “He landed on the rock ledge next to me, and because it was downward sloping, I had to keep Reid on belay to keep him from sliding off the ledge. For the minute or two while I waited for help I could see Reid slowly moving his arms and legs. He had a laceration on the back of his head and was bleeding a lot from his left ear. Reid was very confused and uncooperative—he kept trying to stand up.
“I applied pressure to the laceration on the back of his head and treated him the best I could for shock. For the first few minutes after the fall, he was conscious and knew his name, but had no idea where he was, what had happened, or the date.”
Noyes said she feels incredibly lucky to have taken a first aid and CPR class earlier this year. While she applied pressure to his head, nearby climbers flagged someone down on the road to call an ambulance, and help arrived within the half hour.
“The ledge made it difficult to treat, access, and transport Reid, but the rescue team did a great job,” she said. “I would also like to thank the climbers who helped. Reid was very lucky and I was grateful that they were so close and so knowledgeable.”
Pletcher was first flown to Trauma 1 at St. Anthony Central in Denver. “With head injuries they’re always careful. They can look good and then go bad, so for 72 hours or more you don’t know the full extent of the injury,” said Bruce Cranmer, the head coach at CU. Noyes called Cranmer immediately after getting back in cell range, and together they headed straight to the hospital.
“When we got there, Reid knew who we were, but that was about it. Even days later, he would say, ‘Really, what happened? Why am I here?’ But his memory has been getting better every day,” said Cranmer, who has been posting regular updates on Facebook to let Pletcher’s friends know how he’s doing.
According to Noyes, he had two skull fractures and brain contusions—bruising of the brain—with a subdural hemorrhage, which means his brain was bleeding on the surface. His only other injury was a wrist contusion.
“His doctors kept saying, ‘This is one lucky kid,’” Cranmer recalled. The doctors are confident that Pletcher will make a full recovery.
Pletcher was in the ICU at St. Anthony’s for a week and a half due to a sodium imbalance, which can frequently happen with brain injuries. Doctors wanted to make sure he was stable before transferring him to Craig. Due to a contusion on his left frontal lobe, he also currently has no sense of smell, which may or may not come back with time. When FasterSkier spoke with Cranmer, Pletcher no longer needed an IV and was able to leave the hospital to go to dinner with friends. Now he is set to be released on Friday.
As far as training goes, Cranmer says he’s going to have Pletcher take it one day at a time. “There’s plenty of time to be fit by January or February. I know he’ll be chomping at the bit, but his dad is an orthopedist, so he’ll make sure Reid takes things slow.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.